The Difference Between Feeling Motivated and Being Motivated (and Why it Matters)

If you’ve ever laid in bed in the early morning, staring at the ceiling and knowing you should get up and exercise if only you felt motivated, you’re not alone. 

If you’ve read tons of books and listened to motivational speakers and podcasts and wondered why the heck you can’t hang on to motivation–and concluded you must just be lazy and defective, you are also not alone–and I am right there with you. 

The vast majority of us don’t feel motivated all the time. We procrastinate and avoid tasks we know would be good for us in the long run, but don’t feel good in the moment. We wait for the magical day when a fresh wave of motivation will hit us and we’ll go forth and accomplish our goals…hopefully we’ll feel motivated tomorrow! 

But we don’t feel it, and we just keep waiting and waiting. And our goals stay just out of reach. 

A quick Google search about motivation will tell you that a lot of bloggers, speakers and coaches have figured this out, and are now insisting you forget about motivation and focus on discipline. Set a schedule, and just force yourself to do it. It’s the only way. 

I watched a TED talk last night where author and motivational speaker Mel Robbins recommends using the 5-second rule: when your alarm goes off early in the morning, do not hit the snooze. Count backwards from 5 and then thrust yourself out of bed and start your day–5-4-3-2-1-GO! Don’t give your brain time to talk you out of getting up.

One of my favorite habits bloggers, James Clear, recommends you set a schedule for your goal, and just do it, whether you feel like it or not.  

I think both of these tools are wise and helpful. But must we forget entirely about motivation? Do we have to completely ignore our emotions and become like robots when it comes to pursuing goals?

I don’t think that is what Mel and James are recommending. What they mean is you can’t wait until you feel motivated to take action on your goals. They are absolutely right! But there is a big difference between feeling motivated and being motivated, and I want to explain that difference, and how the latter is crucial in helping you resist the snooze button. 

Feeling Motivated

We all feel motivated sometimes. It’s usually at the beginning of the goal-setting process–during the planning and daydreaming phase. You feel confident and energetic. You want to work, and you’re excited about changes that could be on the horizon. 

But because feeling motivated has to do with your emotions and mood, which naturally fluctuate, eventually things will start to shift. 

I get extremely pumped when I come up with a new idea for a blog post. I love to brainstorm and outline, and fantasize about how great it could be. But actually starting to write a formal post fills me with anxiety and vulnerability. It’s not fun, and I don’t feel like leaping out of bed to do it. 

In the same way, most people will never feel like waking up at the crack of dawn and running or doing squats. Most people never feel like sitting down at the computer for hours doing market research for their business. 

Feeling motivated is a very rare thing, and if you wait for it to arrive before you take action, you’ll never get anywhere. Hard work always requires some form of suffering, and no one ever wants to suffer. 

So the most important question to ask when thinking about motivation is: Why do people willingly suffer? 

The answer is in the question: Why

Being Motivated

I’ve been having trouble waking up early lately, so I tried the Mel Robbins “countdown” this morning. As soon as my alarm went off at 4:45am, I mentally counted “5-4-3-2-1-GO!”….and then I hit the snooze button, twice. 

I will say I felt quite a bit more guilty for it, but it still wasn’t enough to keep me from hitting the snooze and snuggling back under the warm covers for a few more minutes. 

After 2 snooze sessions, I knew I had to get up or I wouldn’t have time to write before work. 

As I sat up in bed, I thought about it. Why am I getting up anyway? The air in the room is uncomfortably cold. I’m still tired, and there’s no one forcing me to write–no official deadlines. 

I took a few deep breaths and scanned my body and mind, trying to locate the source of my drive to get out of bed. It certainly wasn’t for pleasure. 

Pure discipline hadn’t worked either–the countdown helped a little, but it wasn’t enough. 

After a few moments, it became clear: I was motivated. But not by surface-level emotions and physical sensations–I didn’t feel motivated but I somehow was motivated.

The motivation came from a deeper place. I felt it not in my head, but deep in my gut. It seemed to come from inside my core. 

I was getting up, in the cold, uncomfortable darkness to practice writing because I believe strongly in honesty and expression. I want to connect with people about the struggles of being human, and inspire them to reach their potential.

Getting up is also an act of self-compassion–I know working harder at blogging will eventually make me happier and more fulfilled. (Even though it sucks at the moment!)

My core values of honesty, expression, and compassion are my source of motivation, and they stay the same no matter how I am feeling.

If you’re going to get serious about working toward a goal–if you are going to willingly suffer, you need to stop drawing your motivation from surface-level feelings. You must dig deeper.

You have to reach below the physical pain and fatigue, the boredom, doubt and frustration. 

Beneath the automatically generated thoughts about “not feeling like it today,” “Not ready yet,” “Not good enough,” and “this really sucks.”

You have to get to the reason why you are willingly suffering, and allow your gut to explain it to your brain, over and over, until it finally says, “Fine. I’ll allow it,” and your body starts to move.

How to Stay Motivated

Staying motivated means getting in touch with the values behind your planned actions, and keeping those values at the forefront of your mind at all times–especially when you don’t feel like doing the hard, uncomfortable stuff. 

Maybe you’re running and lifting weights every day because you want to gain strength and endurance, but on a deeper level you care about the health of your body, and want to live a long time to care for and enjoy your loved ones. 

You want to start your own business because you want a higher income, but that higher income will mean more peace of mind and freedom. 

The next time your alarm goes off early in the morning, try this:

Take a few deep breaths and scan your body and mind. You will probably notice your mind internally whining about getting up. You’ll notice your thoughts trying to rationalize why you should sleep in a bit longer. You might feel an overall physical and emotional sense of dread and resistance. Notice all this, but stay aware and in control. 

Now take a breath, and go deeper inside. Search for the deeper reasons you want to wake up early, and name them: 

Health and longevity.

Peace and freedom.

Breathe and feel into it. See if those values mean more to you than how you feel in the moment. See if your surface-level feelings start to pale in comparison to them–if your pain starts to matter less. 

This is because you have tapped into a place that is uncorrupted by your momentary emotions and physical sensations. It has nothing to do with how you feel, and everything to do with who you are. 

You will rarely feel motivated, but you can always be motivated. 

So…what are you waiting for? 5-4-3-2-1-GO!

What are the core values that motivate your actions? Share your thoughts in the Comments!

Image Credit: Tomertu, 123RF Stock Image

9 thoughts on “The Difference Between Feeling Motivated and Being Motivated (and Why it Matters)”

  1. Christine Entsminger

    Wow, this really hit the spot. Been definitely struggling with this lately. Yet another amazing read, great work my friend.

  2. I am reading this at 7am in bed just after I hit snooze lol! I’m going to try these techniques it sounds like a great way to shift your thoughts motivate yourself!

    1. Thanks so much for reading Amna! I also hit the snooze this morning. I do, almost every morning–I just set many alarms, LOL! I think it’s important to give ourselves some grace as well, we are trying our best, and as long as we eventually get up, that’s all that matters!

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